1. Patrick Mahomes is back, and that’s great news for the Chiefs. But things are on the verge of getting much better—not this week, because he's not ready yet, but left tackle Eric Fisher is nearing a return after suffering a groin injury in Week 2.
While Fisher isn’t a world-beater (and certainly has never approached his first-overall-pick status), he’s a capable blindside protector for Mahomes. The downgrade to Cameron Erving has been noticeable, and the Chiefs’ offensive line, a strength the past couple years, has become an Achilles heel. Ever before Mahomes' dislocated kneecap in Denver, he was under siege far more often than last year. He's a magician on second reaction plays, but Mahomes was MVP in 2018 because he was often able to function within structure and on-schedule.
When it comes to the reactionary positions (offensive line, defensive backfield), there’s something to be said for “good enough.” For instance, on the other side of the ball, you’re seeing it with the Eagles defense, who got their two serviceable starting cornerbacks (Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills) back into the lineup and are starting to look like the kind of B-plus-or-maybe-better defense they were expected to be going into the season. Mahomes can put a team on his shoulders any week, but K.C. getting the front five right will unlock a whole lot more in him.
The QB's ailing knee combined with the shaky offensive line is enough for Andy Reid to play it conservative with Mahomes in his return on Sunday. This Chiefs offense is going to take off again, but it might be a week or two away.
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2a. Sunday will inflict upon us the quadrennial tradition of Giants-Jets. With the Giants firmly in a rebuild and the Jets in the midst of populating a blooper reel that only the great Marv Albert could narrate, it is sure to be a forgettable affair. (Or, well, perhaps the car-crash appeal will make it impossible to look away.)
Since the opening of MetLife Stadium the game has been known as the Snoopy Bowl, in honor of the beloved Peanuts character-turned MetLife mascot, and because if there’s one thing the NFL needed it was more corporate branding within games.
But this year’s matchup does not deserve the Snoopy Bowl moniker. Rather, it should be known as the “Spike Bowl,” named for Snoopy’s ne’er-do-well brother. You know, the guy with the hat and the bad teenage moustache. He lives in the desert and delivers a lot of lines about cactuses (and how they pop inflatable things, mostly). And in the 80s he served a lengthy prison sentence for insurance fraud. (Charles Schultz never referenced that last part, but if you read between the lines . . . )
Anyway, a trophy featuring this guy—who happens to be wearing the same expression most people attending this game will have—should be awarded to the winner of Giants-Jets this afternoon.
2b. A week ago, in reference to Matthew Stafford’s phenomenal season so far, I mentioned how silly it is to treat all turnovers as created equal. (Most understood the rather straightforward logic that, say a pick-six is more damaging than a downfield interception that is not returned. One guy not so much but what was he gonna do, not tweet?)
A good example of especially damaging turnovers is what’s going on with Daniel Jones, the Giants quarterback who you might know better as “Danny Dimes,” the nickname he earned as a teenage street tough in Charlotte known for smashing open pay phones and re-selling the coins on the black market (eight cents for a 10-cent piece) so they couldn’t be traced back to him.
Jones’s throws have, frankly, come with an appropriate amount of recklessness. Young quarterbacks should err toward aggressiveness when testing windows at the NFL level, especially when they are part of a rebuilding team. It’s a way of measuring what you can get away with. However, Jones’s inability to—literally—hold on to the ball is becoming an issue.
To back up for a second: One of Jones’s best attributes is a willingness hang in a muddy pocket with eyes up until the very last moment. It maximizes play designs and puts enormous stress on a defense, especially important for a guy with relatively ordinary arm talent. But, because of his habit of extending plays within the pocket, Jones is susceptible to getting stripped. He has lost a whopping seven fumbles over his seven starts.
And, while many interceptions occur downfield and involve a shift in field position, quarterback fumbles often do not. They’re often recovered with field position gained for the defense. Six of Jones’s seven lost fumbles have been in the pocket, and all but one of them has been recovered and/or returned for a gain of field position (relative to the play’s line of scrimmage) by the opponent. The past two weeks have featured defensive fumble return touchdowns of 29 and 76 yards. These are game-changing plays Jones is giving up, and it’s something the Giants can’t afford once they’re ready to start winning games again.
2c. A bit of miscellany: Sunday will be the Bucs’ first home game since Daniel Jones beat them in his first career start. That was Sept. 22.* I do my best to refrain from profanity, but Howard Katz and Co. are complete goobers for even suggesting this schedule, let alone pushing it for approval.
*—Today is Nov. 10, if you didn't know. So be outraged.
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3a. Everyone is abuzz about the likely absence of stud tight end George Kittle for the rare good Monday Night Football matchup between the 49ers and Seahawks. But if you’re watching that game and you feel like something’s missing, it’s probably some combination of your deep subconscious knowing that your colleagues don’t respect you and the fact that Kwon Alexander isn't playing. He suffered a season-ending torn pectoral last Thursday.
In the front seven, the 49ers’ dominating defense has had the defensive linemen—particularly on the edge—pinning their ears back and attacking, while the linebackers clean it up when things go wrong. Alexander has been excellent in that role.
Russell Wilson coming to Santa Clara on Monday, surely to visit the Winchester Mystery House, but presumably to play in a football game as long as he’s there. Wilson’s skillset—particularly on play-action bootlegs—will put enormous stress on the 49ers’ front seven. With Alexander out, a large burden will fall on Fred Warner and fifth-round rookie Dre Greenlaw. The Seahawks are into that.
3b. Of course, the absence of Kittle is likely to be problematic as well. The 49ers are running the ball at a rate unseen over the past decade (37.9 attempts per game, highest rate since 2009, which is even more run-heavy when you consider quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo does not run often to goose the numbers). That, of course, is due very much to the fact that they’ve been protecting leads for pretty much the entire season.
If the Seahawks put up points—and there’s a very good chance they will—Garoppolo will have to try to keep up while missing his best weapon.
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4a. The Bears have done a great job uncovering and publicizing all their problems. First, it was the kickers. Definitely the kickers. One-hundred percent the kickers. But also it was the media. Even when it was the kickers, it was the media. But really, if you really want to know what’s gone wrong, the true problem has been the TVs. What with the satellites and the cathode-ray tubes and whatnot.
Anyway, now that HGTV won’t be beamed into Halas Hall, this thing’s about to turn around for the Bears. Well, that and the fact that the all-world quarterback for Sunday’s opponent might not be healthy enough to play. Probably because of kickers and negative media and TVs in Detroit.
4b. Isn’t every show on HGTV basically the same premise but with slightly different people? Based on my loyal viewership—at the physical therapist’s office, dentist’s office, jury-duty waiting room, and those ads featuring those handsome twin fellas at the bank—the answer is yes.
4c. On Trubisky, it is still too early to give up on him completely. Some guys just don't get it until late in their careers, and the fact that he'll forever be compared to Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson—the guys Chicago could have had—will forever be a problem out of his control. But over two seasons under Matt Nagy, this has gone as poorly as it possibly could have. The offense works for the most part, but he's incapable of operating it. Maybe Nagy isn't teaching it well, maybe Trubisky is incapable of leaning it, but it seems inevitable that the QB needs a significant change to get his career on track.
Or, maybe one day it will just suddenly click and everything will work out. Stranger things have happened. I can't think of any at the moment, but surely stranger things have happened.
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5a. If I had a troubled offense that needed fixing this winter, I’d hire Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban as my offensive coordinator. Then I’d sit back with a barely deserved sense of accomplishment as my offense becomes more creative, adaptable and better equipped to solve problems. Then I’d be washed over with concern that someone is going to poach him to be their head coach. Then I’d probably go use the bathroom because I’d have been sitting there for a long time thinking about James Urban and kombucha goes right through you.
5b. Urban’s work with Lamar Jackson has solidified his standing as one of football’s best position coaches. Two years ago, when he was the Bengals’ receivers coach, he broke down a few plays with the best analyst in football. You’ve made a grave error if you’ve never read it.
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6. I’m not one for the “gotta see what you have” approach to playing young QBs—it’s a thoughtless approach and 92% of the time does more harm than good during a quarterback's developmental process. However, this is the right time for the Bengals to move on from Andy Dalton and throw Ryan Finley into the fire.
In a way it’s unfair, seeing as Finley will have five guys who can’t block in front of him and the Ravens defense will be lining up across from them. But Finley was in college long enough to be a doctor and a lawyer, playing for two programs that run relatively pro-style systems, so in theory he should be ready sooner rather than later. He was also a fourth-round pick, so the Bengals haven’t made a major investment in him in the event they do ruin him.
But more than anything, it’s time to move on from Dalton. If, as we all expect, Finley does not establish himself as their QB of the future, then they know to take a quarterback with the top-three pick they’re likely to hold next spring. If Finley does prove to be a hidden gem, then they can build around him and spent that draft capital elsewhere. Like the offensive line, maybe.
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7a. For those of you who are into witnessing history, here’s one to monitor: The Cardinals have fumbled just twice all season and have yet to lose a single fumble in 2019. The all-time record for fewest fumbles in a season is six (by the 2011 Saints). The record for fewest lost fumbles in a season is two, shared by the 2002 Chiefs and 2014 Vikings. So pay attention. If this holds, you’ll one day tell your grandkids where you were for every Arizona Cardinals possession of the 2019 season—your grandkids who won’t hear a word you say because they’ll be playing Pokémon Go with their minds, which is what kids will be doing in 2053.
7b. A tip of the hat to friend of the show René “Rainbow Cave” Bugner who cited one of my favorite luck stats: Opponent field goal percentage (you have virtually no control over whether an opponent makes or misses a kick). Specifically, René points out that kickers are perfect against the Saints this season.
I always loosely factor in length of field goal (league-wide in 2019, kickers are hitting 85.3% inside 50, 53.5% from 50 and beyond, and 93.8% of PATs). With that in mind, here are the unluckiest teams when it has come to opposing kicker performance this season:
Baltimore: +0.858 opponent kicking points per game vs. expected
New Orleans: +0.797
And the luckiest teams when it comes to opposing kickers have been:
L.A. Chargers: -1.82 opponent kicking points per game vs. expected
7c. If you’re wondering—and surely you are—the only team to ever go an entire season with opponents making every kick was the 2014 49ers. Because if there’s one thing we all remember about the 8-8 49ers of 2014, it’s that no one ever missed a kick against them. That was, like, their thing.
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8. Ladies and gentlemen . . . The Mountain Goats!
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